The United States welcomes the issuance of the judgment by the Special Court for Sierra Leone, convicting Charles Taylor, the former president of Liberia, of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Today’s judgment was an important step toward delivering justice and accountability for victims, restoring peace and stability in the country and the region, and completing the Special Court for Sierra Leone’s mandate to prosecute those persons who bear the greatest responsibility for the atrocities committed in Sierra Leone. The Taylor prosecution at the Special Court delivers a strong message to all perpetrators of atrocities, including those in the highest positions of power, that they will be held accountable.
The trial of Charles Taylor is of enormous historical and legal significance as it is the first of a powerful head of state to be brought to judgment before an international tribunal on charges of mass atrocities and serious violations of international humanitarian law. Over 90 witnesses testified during the trial, bringing to light the range of crimes committed during the war in Sierra Leone, and affirming the importance of justice for the victims. The United States has been a strong supporter and the leading donor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone since its inception. The successful completion of the Special Court’s work remains a top U.S. Government priority.
Ambassador Donahoe: We are here today because the Human Rights Council is going to hold an urgent session on the human rights crisis in Syria. As you know, this is the second time we have been required to hold an exceptional session about the human rights situation in Syria in just the last few months.
I would like to make three quick points. One is about the human rights situation; second about the emerging international consensus on the loss of legitimacy of the Assad regime; and third, what do we expect as the outcome of today.
On the human rights situation, everyone knows that the human rights crisis has deteriorated significantly in the last few weeks. The High Commissioner for Human Rights has come out and indicated that there are credible allegations of systematic and widespread human rights violations that may amount to crimes against humanity.
The Special Representative of the Secretary General on Children in Armed Conflict has let us know there are credible allegations of torture of children.
We have credible allegations that Assad has used tanks. We have documentary evidence that they’ve used tanks, machine guns, grenades and snipers against peaceful protesters, human rights defenders, et cetera. Innocent civilians are being massacred.
I don’t think there’s any doubt in the mind of anyone that the situation has deteriorated significantly.
Second, we see an emerging consensus in the international community. There’s growing unity and resolve that Assad must go. He’s lost the legitimacy to rule the Syrian people. This special session that we are about to hold was called for by a strong majority of council members, well above the number we needed to call a special session.
Importantly, we have the support of four Arab neighbors of Syria — Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan.
Secondly, as you all know, the Arab League has spoken out, the OIC has spoken out, the EU has spoken out to get Assad to stop the violence, and our President, President Obama, has asked Assad to step down and allow the Syrian people to move toward a peaceful future.
It is clear that Assad is isolated and I think today’s session will underscore that point.
What do we expect as an outcome? The purpose of today’s session is to increase pressure on the Assad regime, to get Assad to step down, and to allow the Syrian people to move forward.
The specific outcome we hope for is the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry (COI) to investigate facts on the ground in Syria and to bring the Syrian authorities who are responsible for the atrocities to account.
We believe the establishment of a COI is the gold standard in the human rights world and we think this will send a strong message to the Assad regime that the allegations against them are very serious.
With that, I’ll take a couple of questions.
Question: I’d like to have your reaction on what is happening [in Libya] yesterday and if it will reflect on this session today on Syria.
Ambassador Donahoe: The first comment is that every situation is different, and I do not want to draw direct conclusions about the situation in Syria from what has happened in Libya.
That said, I will say the indications overnight are somewhat hopeful about the situation in Libya. President Obama has recognized the TNC (Transitional National Council) as the legitimate authority in Libya. He has expressed hope that the TNC will continue to demonstrate leadership in moving the Libyan people to a democratic future.
Last, I will say, I have to comment that we did in February of this year hold a comparable special session on the crisis in Libya where we also established a Commission of Inquiry, and that Commission of Inquiry was able to enter Libya and to document atrocities by the Gadhafi regime. So in that sense it is relevant.
Question: What about the latest developments, your commentary about the latest developments of the situation in Libya with Gadhafi that is practically unchaining his tanks against Tripoli population?
Ambassador Donahoe: Could you repeat that question?
Question: What is your commentary about the latest developments of the situation in Libya, because Gadhafi is probably going down, but now is unchaining his tanks against the population as many agencies reported.
Ambassador Donahoe: First off the facts on the ground in Libya are changing moment by moment and I do not want to get ahead of the story. The indications we have are that there is the prospect that it’s moving in a positive direction. However, Gadhafi has made manifest his brutality against his people for the last number of months, so we cannot let our guard down and assume that that’s over.
Question: Does the U.S. support the call for the Security Council on Syria, the Security Council to seize the ICC, to refer the matter of Syria to the ICC?
Ambassador Donahoe: First off, the United States absolutely supports accountability for the Syrian atrocities against the Syrian people. That’s the first thing. We would support either having that accountability take place in institutions in a new democratic Syria if possible, or in the appropriate international bodies.
I will say that today at the Human Rights Council we are not authorized to call for a move to the ICC. However, as it moves to the Security Council I am sure that everyone will take up the allegations very seriously.